Earth’s health at worst levels on record

Sarah Kaplan’s review on the findings released by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in their report “State of the Climate in 2020,” as described in a Washington Post article entitled Many measures of Earth’s health are at worst levels on record, NOAA finds, gives this prognosis: “Earth is arguably in worse shape than it’s been.”

Even with a global pandemic that halted commerce and human activities for most of the year, Earth’s fever has simply increased and global health metrics—including that for CO2 levels—have just continued to get worse. It’s a dire report but nothing new, coming on the heels of the IPCC’s “Physical Basis” report and follows along on the same trajectory as eleven prior reports published annually by NOAA.

NOAA’s assessment, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, draws on the work of 530 scientists from 66 countries. Atmospheric researchers found no evidence that last year’s 6 to 7% dip in global annual emissions had any lasting effect. The roughly 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide not emitted during the most severe pandemic-related shutdowns have been dwarfed by the more than 1,500 gigatons humans have unleashed since the Industrial Revolution began.

“It’s a record that keeps playing over and over again,” said Jessica Blunden, a NOAA climate scientist who has co-led “State of the Climate” reports for 11 years. “Things are getting more and more intense every year because emissions are happening every year.”.

Because carbon dioxide typically lingers in the atmosphere for a few hundred to 1,000 years, humans will have to stop emitting for much longer than a few months to make a meaningful dent in concentrations of the pollutant. Methane concentrations were also found to have spiked dramatically — rising 14.8 parts per billion to its highest level in millennia. The drilling and distribution of natural gas helps drive up methane emissions. But it is also produced by microbes found in both natural environments such as wetlands and human-built ones such as landfills and farms.

While a spike from natural gas usage is bad, the more worrying possibility is that this increase comes from natural methane sources — such as salt marshes, peatlands and mangrove forests — which would be indicative that we have reached a tipping point, where higher temperatures boost microbe action within thawing permafrost areas. This could continue to add methane for a long time to come, at ever increasing levels, even if we were able to successfully reduce emissions from fossil fuel usage.

Read the Washington Post’s Many measures of Earth’s health are at worst levels on record, NOAA finds, by Sarah Kaplan and published August 28, 2021.